They say that “a murderer will kill you and a thief will rob you – but with a liar, you just don’t know where you stand”. That neatly sums up the quandary in which many Leeds United fans find themselves over mercurial owner Massimo Cellino – or “Cellinocchio” as he is sometimes dubbed, with a nod to the legendary lying puppet Pinocchio, whose nose grew longer with every falsehood uttered, marking him out as a liar and not to be trusted.
In Cellino’s case, the lies are as plain as the nose on his face – buying back the ground, sticking with this or that head coach, selling his interest in the club to a fans’ group – and yet that facial feature stays obstinately the same size. It is the Cellino rap sheet that grows progressively longer, not his proboscis. Still, the indictment is just as damning as Jiminy Cricket‘s of Pinocchio – more so, in fact, as what Cellino appears to lack that Jiminy provided for the wooden puppet boy, is a conscience.
It is that lack of conscience, that tendency to deceive and make false promises, that puts Cellino beyond the pale for many Leeds fans, blunt and straight-talking as they tend to be, whether from within or without the Broad Acres. Fans, who deal in the currency of loyalty and fervent support, are at a genuine disadvantage when dealing with a man who will say whatever it takes to make his own position more comfortable or to deflect mounting criticism. The Cellinos of this world – and the Bateses too – will react to hard times by making hollow promises, figuring that the sweet music of such blandishments hath charms to soothe the savage breast. By the time these empty vows – a buyback of Elland Road to follow swiftly upon a visit to the ATM on the day he purchased United, a beautiful season to develop in 2015/16, an undertaking to sell the club to LFU – are exposed as the whopping lies they are, Cellino is already moving on, as intent on survival by whatever means as ever.
When Cellino said he’d sell, I had my doubts. When it seemed his preferred buyers were the fans themselves, I politely expressed a level of cynicism. When Peter “Mouthpiece” Lorimer came out and whispered seductively that the Italian could still succeed at Leeds “given time” – I suspected the vow to sell up was no more than a bluff. Now that he has stated there are no serious people expressing an interest in the club, and that any plans to sell in the short term are shelved – well, I’m not exactly surprised. For those of us who can smell the bovine ordure stench of a liar at long range, this has been coming. Cellino is reliable only in terms of his consistent unreliability.
So, it was all just another massive fib and we are stuck with the Italian for the foreseeable. Not surprise, but more a certain anxious disquiet is the dominant feeling now. Things had settled down a bit following Cellino’s “I’m outta here” claim. These things do filter down to the players as well as to the fans, and there has been more of a relaxed atmosphere in and around the squad since manager Steve Evans moved in and the owner almost immediately said he’d be on his bike. Perhaps those players felt that they would now be representing a proper football club instead of a Latin ego-trip with il Duce Cellinocchio, the lying puppet, ironically pulling the strings – and ruling according to his increasingly capricious whims. It will be interesting to see if this welcome recent upturn in the mood of the players will survive the realisation that we are not – by a long chalk – done with Massimo yet.
Perhaps it will take another disastrous run of form to make the Italian revert to retreat mode again – perhaps it might even cost us another manager. Or two, or three. Perhaps, even, it will take our perennial foes at the Football League to legislate the crazy reign of Cellino out of existence and into the history books. Contrary to much of what I’ve written about the League over the past couple of years, I’d rather they acted decisively, free of their usual bumbling incompetence, and rid us of this turbulent owner before he can spill any more innocent blood on the manager’s office carpet. We can but wait, wish – and hope.
The main thing we should wish for at the moment though, is that Cellino might stop acting like a rattlesnake, and man up enough to tell the truth about his intentions. If it’s not too much to ask, a few copper-bottomed guarantees about the future of current managerial and coaching staff wouldn’t go amiss, either. Not that many would believe any such promises – but the path to redemption could yet be picked out by such markers as the owner might be prepared to lay down, going forward. We could actually forgive him a lot for that – but, let’s not forget, there’s a hell of a lot to forgive.